Halloween and the Jack-O-Lantern

Here’s a little Halloween treat this week that I think you will enjoy, and maybe learn something along the way.  Enjoy!

The Story of Halloween

Most people think of Halloween as a night of dress up in ghostly or funny costumes, to have parties, or to go “trick-or-treating” and never consider why or how much a holiday evolved from a serious annual rite in ancient times.  What is actually being celebrated is two customs that have been combined into one.

The first tradition is the observance of a Catholic religious day set aside to honor saints.  Referred to as “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day,” this holy day is held on November 1st.  The night before  is known as “All Hallows Eve,” from which the name Halloween evolved.

The second celebration is from Northern France and the British Isles where the Celtic people celebrated the end of the Celtic year known as Samhain (pronounced sow-en) or “Summer’s End.”  This festival was a time set aside to honor the dead.  The Celts believed that the realm of the dead, or the spirit world, and the physical world were closest together during Samhain.

The traditional celebration of Samhain included carving jack-o-lanterns from gourds and turnips, then lighting them with coals or candles to show the way for deceased loved ones.  At the same time, these lanterns were believed to ward off evil spirits.  Another version of the celebration indicates that disembodied spirits of those that died during the year intermingled with the living on that night.  They attempted to possess the living to hopes of being allowed to have an afterlife.  In an effort to frighten away the spirits, people would leave their houses unlit and cold, dress up in ghoulish costumes and parade around town being destructive as possible.  This tradition set the stage for today’s children’s refrain “trick or treat.”  When the Europeans arrived in the New World, they discovered a new fruit that was larger than the turnip and easier to carve: the pumpkin.  The pumpkin has been the symbol of Halloween ever since.

The Story of the Jack-O-Lantern

The story of the name jack-o-lantern has a history of its own.  It derives from a folk tale about a disreputable drunkard by the name of Jack who, upon learning that the devil had come for his soul, tricked the devil into buying him one last drink.  Having no money, Jack convinced the devil to transform himself into coins so that Jack could buy his last drink.  Instead of buying the drink, Jack placed the coins in his pocket along with a silver cross, thus preventing the devil from returning to his common state.  To be released the devil agreed to leave Jack’s soul alone for ten years.

After ten years had passed, the devil appeared to Jack as he was walking down a country road.  The silver tongued Jack managed to talk the devil into climbing an apple tree before claiming his soul.  While the devil was in the tree, Jack pulled out his knife and carved a cross in the base of the tree, thus trapping the devil again.  Again he struck a bargain with the devil, this time extracting a promise that the devil would never take his soul.

When Jack finally died, he went to Heaven but was not allowed in because of his drinking and dastardly ways.  With no place to go he went to Hell.  The devil, remembering Jack’s trickery, refused him entrance.  Jack then convinced the devil that the way back was so dark and windy that he needed a light to find his way.  To get rid of Jack, the devil gave him an ember from Hell.  Jack placed the ember in a turnip he was eating to shield the flame from the wind and began to wander back in the darkness forever doomed.

Questions & Comments

Our first questions come from Rick C. from Wichita, Kansas who writes:

“Hi Bob In response to your survey: Name: Rick C. From Wichita Kansas Carving for 6 months, so still pretty new. I’m always looking for good resources of things to carve to learn new things. So many videos out there are hard to follow or just too simple so I’m always looking for new things somewhere in the middle. Trying to figure out how to paint, blending colors is a challenge, would also love to see the video someone mentioned where Doug Linker compares different oils, I can’t find that. Would be interesting to see about any online courses people can take. I ran across one the other day that someone mentioned in a post somewhere and it’s a class by Charles Banks that looks just like what I was looking for so I signed up for that. Would have never found that on my own.

Thank you so much for this forum and for supporting the community. Rick”

When it comes to painting you can’t go wrong with any books or videos by Betty Padden.  Betty is by far the best painter I have ever seen.  In the coming weeks I will be doing a book review on a carving and painting book by Betty Padden…a must have book!

Several people have inquired about Doug Linker’s oil comparison video.  Well I spoke with Doug and it turns out it was not a video but rather a live stream he did.  So if you were in the right place at the right time you saw his comparison but Doug told me there is no video.  Perhaps some of those who were fortunate enough to see the live stream can provide the rest of us with a summary.

My best recommendation for online classes is to subscribe to the Woodcarving Academy (woodcarvingacademy.com).  I’ve mentioned this several times before and highly recommend it.  I also did an in depth article on the Woodcarving Academy in my August 8, 2021 post where you can go back and check it out.

Thanks for writing in, Rick.  Always appreciate your input.

Next we have a photo that Don Dalton sent in of his first carving.  Don is brand new to carving and is just starting out.

Santa Ornament by Don Dalton

That’s a terrific job for your first carving, Don!  Looks like you’re off to a great start.  Thanks for the photo and keep up the good work!

Finally this week we have several excellent questions from Liam M. from Dublin, Ireland.  Liam writes:

“Hi Bob,

Thanks for your answer to my recent question about a wax and how to apply it on carvings…I’m waiting for some Howard Feed N Wax to arrive to try it out 🙂

In response to your survey, I would regard myself as a Beginner+, i.e. not a total beginner but not yet at an intermediate level, as I just done a limited range of small simple carvings so far.

In relation to possible topics that you might talk about in your blog, I was wondering about “green carving” and the types of wood that are available and good for carving in different countries. I hear about quite a range of wood available in USA and Canada that I know aren’t available here in Ireland, and it would be interesting to hear perhaps from friends from Europe on what green wood they like to carve.

Another topic that interests me is “how to make contacts with local carvers?” I’m pretty new to Instagram, just about 5 or 6 weeks so far, and I have yet to come across another person from Ireland posting their carvings / whittlings on Instagram. 

Another topic relates to carving fairs, or craft fairs that host a lot of wood carving stalls. In the past when I played badminton, my friends and I would travel to Birmingham in the UK each year to watch the All England Badminton championships where the world’s top players (professionals) that play in the Olympics used play. It was a fantastic weekend, we would watch the professionals in awe, meet up with friends from other clubs around the country that we hadn’t seen since the previous year, make new friends, and enjoy some lovely meals in great company. If there was an online database of carving fairs around the world it would be an awesome resource for all of us interested in carving. We could see look up where such fairs were taking place, when, perhaps a website link for more information. It would be lovely to visit these fairs, meet friends and make new friends, and meet other carvers, and find out more about this great and enjoyable activity – and for those who may not be quite as interested in the carving as us carvers (e.g. our spouses/partners etc.) there’s still the opportunity to visit a new place, enjoy some nice meals out over the trip. Could a page be added to your blog with this info, with different members providing you with such information from their areas / countries?

I hope I haven’t been too demanding mentioning the above? 🙂

All best best Bob, and looking forward to more posts on your blog.

Best regards,

Liam M   (Dublin, Ireland)”

All good questions, Liam.  To address your first question, when you ask about “green” wood are you asking about raw, fresh-cut, un-dried wood?  That’s what is considered green wood here in America and it’s mostly used by spoon carvers and bowl makers.

You may be asking about dried wood which of course any wood can be dried.  The woods used throughout Europe are predominantly softwoods such as various species of pine.  Most softwood lumber in Europe is produced  mainly in Sweden, Finland, Germany and Austria.  Hardwoods such as oak, beech and ash are also available.  These European hardwoods are used extensively in construction, furniture and door manufacture.

If you can find it, lime wood which is said to be Europe’s equivalent to our American basswood is a good choice.  My best advice here is to check with the lumber mills near you to see what kinds of woods they carry.

Now to your last question.  Instagram is good but not the best.  Consider getting an account on Facebook and look for different carving group to join.  These groups have thousands of members from all corners of the globe and there is no limit to the number of different groups you can belong to.

Craft fairs are good but they’re not necessarily the best way to meet carving friends.  It’s easy to find craft fairs by just Googling Craft Fairs in your town or in Ireland.  I did a Google search and found loads of them.  A far better way to meet other carvers is to search for carving clubs or classes near you.  You can find them the same way you would find a craft fair.  Just Google Woodcarving Clubs/Classes in my area.  By simply joining a club or taking a class you’re sure to meet several wood carvers who are on the same level as you.


If you’re in the area this weekend stop by the show. It’s a great show and well worth it.

The International Association of Woodcarvers has upcoming Zoom meetings on the following Saturdays at 3PM with special guests.  Check them out…

Zoom: 3104603575


10/30 – Jarrod Wood                                                                           11/6 – Helvie Knives                                                                     11/13 – Ryan Olsen                                                                    11/20 – Dwayne Gosnell                                                              11/27 – Thanksgiving                                                                  12/4 – Dave Dion                                                                     12/11 – Dale Green                                                                 12/18 – Eric Owens


Don’t forget to check out my latest article on how to carve a Simple Snowman Ornament on page 37 in the 2021 Winter issue #97 of Woodcarving Illustrated!

Let the chips fly!  Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to click the ‘Comment’ button at the bottom of the page to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going! 

And remember, we need your photos!  I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share, and photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.  Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section!  Email your photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

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